Friday, June 18, 2010

Hurrah! Lesbian Moms For Everyone!

As I writer who has been misunderstood and assaulted by readers blinded by their own pre-rehearsed rants, I will try to season my rage with Pamela Paul’s article, Are Father’s Necessary?  with a sprinkling of reason.

If you haven’t read the article, Paul’s general thesis is that fathers have nothing of distinction to offer their kids, and might therefore be unnecessary. Paul claims that all the studies which show the positive benefits of father involvement are bunk as they are only compared to studies about kids raised just by single moms. She does make an astute observation when she writes “Most of the data fail to distinguish between a father and the income a father provides, or between the presence of a father and the presence of a second parent, regardless of gender.”

To illustrate her point, Paul then touts the results of a study of families headed by lesbian moms. She quotes two academics who conclude, “…based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”

She then wraps the whole thing up saying heterosexual parents secretly embrace the traditional gender parenting roles and that “there is nothing objectively essential about (a father’s) contribution.” She then puts down her pen, goes into the den, and throws butcher knives at an effigy of her dad (ok, so maybe I added that last part.)

The biggest flaw made here, from a simply “scientific” viewpoint (keeping in mind I was an arts major) is that we don’t have any data in her article around kids raised by gay fathers. Perhaps those results are implied: the more men we add to the equation, the worse things get. Kids from lesbian parents do better than kids from straight couples; children raised by single moms have healthier relationships than kids from single dad families. I guess the logical conclusion to that pattern is that kids raised by two men devolve into depraved, crime ridden and flesh easting terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill you and everyone you love.

Paul is missing two profoundly importing things (and perhaps a few marbles). The first: children need to know they are loved and valued by the two people who are supposed to love them most—their parents. I don’t care if those are gay parents, straight parents, divorced parents or rhesus monkey parents. When a child grows up with, say, an alcoholic mother, who is incapable due to her own illness to give her child the unconditional love and support a child needs, that child will suffer. Period.

The second gross oversight is that it is because of traditional gender roles that we are taking dads away from their children. Workplace culture, societal forces and yes, even the gate keeping mothers to whom Paul alludes are all guilty of reinforcing the idea that a man is best serving his family at the office. And how has that worked to date? I know a heap of adults who are haunted by unresolved issues with their dad because he was rarely around. I’ve never met anyone who has ever lamented, “You know, the problem with my dad is that he wanted to spend too much time with me.” As long as we adhere to traditional gender roles, and deny fathers the same cultural and workplace leeway that is given to working moms, kids will continue to ask themselves, “Why is my dad never at my piano recitals?” with the eventual inferred answer being, “…because his work is more important.” It is not until you are an adult that you realize why dad was making such a huge sacrifice but by that time the damage has already been done.

Perhaps Paul is one of those gate keeping mothers. A recent University of Texas study showed that the more competent a man is as a father, the lower his wife’s self esteem is around mothering. (Here is another fine example of how reinforcing traditional gender roles can mess us all up—look at the pressure we still put on women to tie their self worth to their apron strings). Perhaps Paul thinks the solution here is for men to imitate Hollywood and Madison Avenue and put the diaper on the baby’s head from time to time in an effort to make her feel better.

What is ultimately insulting to me in this piece is Paul’s implication that men (and women) are happy secretly clinging to traditional gender roles. She suggests I am really content to just teach my son to throw a spiral, give his hair a tussle, and then leave everything else to mom. While I agree traditional gender lines are more rigid than people think, I would vehemently argue that people are unaware slaves rather than clandestine subscribers to them. Those who feel they are personally above such antiquated notions are largely still bound by them. Even the most progressive couple who wants dad to be the at-home parent is still restricted by the fact that we still pay women less than men. Even here in progressive Canada, moms will often get parental leave top ups from employers where dads do not.

Anyway, Pamela, enough of this silly girl talk. Now go get me my pipe and slippers, honey. And before you get to scrubbing the toilet and wiping the kid’s butts, be a good girl and pour me a scotch, will you?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Aren’t Dads Lobbying for Better Work Life Balance?

Over on my men’s work life balance blog, I’ve been writing about several recent studies, all which point to the fact that men, more than ever before, are struggling with work life balance. Today’s father is waking up facing a whole slew of issues that his father never really had to consider, yet we are still burdened by the expectation that our fathers did face—namely, to be the primary breadwinner.

There are countless examples, of course, of families where mom out earns dad, or dad is the stay at home parent. This is great. We need to hail families like these as trailblazers for turning traditional gender roles on their ear. However, men have a larger battle on their hands, and for the sake of our children we need to arise to the challenge.

It is safe to generalize that men today want (or perhaps, expect) to be more involved with their kids than previous generations of dads. This, I believe is the source of our increasing dissatisfaction with work life balance—we want to be more involved with kids, are rightly expected to do more domestically, but are conditioned to believe we are of most use to our families at the office rather than the dinner table. It is an ugly game of tug of war where, ironically, both families and employers get less than they had bargained for.

Although work life balance is a societal issue—one that affects moms, dads, single people and same sex couples, it is still largely framed as a “mom’s issue”. And why not? Moms brought work life balance to the forefront as they blazed the trail for all aspiring career women who still embraced motherhood. But today, according to the Families and Work Institute more men (59%) than women (45%) are saying that work life and family life are interfering with each other.

I came across an article by Courtney E. Martin who co-authored a report for the Centre for American Progress. In it, she fully acknowledges that men are facing the work life balance crunch and largely get ignored in WLB discussions. But she asks a great question: “…what will motivate men to embrace work/life policy issues as their own?”

She goes on to say that as a woman, she shouldn’t have to answer that question, and that women are tired of asking men to “meet them half way.” Though I understand where the fatigue is coming from, I think her comment is short sighted.

However, her question (and the implied answer) is spot on. Men aren’t organizing and rallying against one-sided work policies (not to mention, work culture) that act as inhibitors to us being more involved fathers. We need to stand up as men, in the workplace and elsewhere, and demand that we no longer should be seen as second class citizens when it comes to parenting and  that we deserve the same flexibility policies that are granted to mothers. And we need to feel proud, not emascuated, if we choose to put time with family ahead of time at the office.  It’s sadly ironic that the whole world seems to know that involved fathers are the best way to keep our kids in school and out of gangs, jail, and the delivery room. Yet we do little in terms of workplace and social policy to support and foster that involvement.

Like women have done, we need to take responsibility for our actions and our future. We are the only solution to the problems that plague our work and family balance. As we approach Father’s Day, think about how proud you are to be a dad and how much you love being with your kids. And the next time you have the chance to stand up and speak out in support of fatherhood, be it at the work place or the bar, do it with your head held high. One day, your sons and daughters may thank you for it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Calling all At Home Dads

If you are an at home dad (or know one) you owe it to yourself to check out the At Home Dad Convention  in Omaha, NB.

The event is scheduled officially for October 2nd, but for those who can come for longer, events usually get underway earlier.   Last year we watched college football on Thursday night, and spent Friday at the Strategic Air and Space Museum before a welcome reception at the hotel that night.  Saturday we had a great line up of speakers including "Daddy Shift" author, Jeremy Adam Smith as well as a full slate of great break out sessions.

This convention is men at their best--drinking beer, watching football and embracing our "guy" side one minute, and actively participating in forums of styling your daughters hair the next.

If you can get to Omaha for this event, I highly recommend it.  If money is an issue, I know there is a scholarship available and the local hotel gives participants a great deal.

I hope to make it there again myself this year and I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Home, Away" is a Home Run!

When I was offered a free copy of Jeff Gillenkirk’s first novel, "Home, Away" (Chin Music Press  ) I jumped at the opportunity. As this book is about my two favourite passions, fatherhood and baseball, I couldn’t say no. Had the author somehow managed to incorporate Belgian beer into the plot line, I would have written a glowing review without even cracking the spine.

Before I give a little review, I want to make it clear that I don’t see my blog as a review site. My goal is to help portray fathers as the capable and loving care givers we know we are, to expose some of the unique challenges men can face when it comes to parenting and to challenge men to be the best fathers we can be. Having said that, I reviewed the documentary “The Evolution of Dad ” because it adds to the important discussion of who dads really are. Likewise, I am writing about "Home, Away" because it is a refreshingly positive, albeit starkly honest, portrayal of fatherhood.

The story revolves around an emerging young baseball star named Jason Thibodeaux. Less than a year after pitching in the World Series, Jason turns his back on a $45 million dollar contract to care for his estranged and troubled son, Rafe. This isn’t the first time Jason does such a selfless act. The book opens with Jason redshirting his senior season at Stanford to care for his toddler son while his wife finishes Stanford Law. We learn that Rafe was the product of a one night stand. But rather than running away from his responsibilities, Jason is committed to be the father his absentee-oil-rig-working-father never was.

Over the 23 year course of the story, we go from Jason’s acrimonious divorce, to custody fights, to life as a single dad, to the pain of being unfairly vilified by his ex wife, and eventually, completely alienated from his son. Through it all, Jason struggles with his own demons from his relationship with his father. And although Jason makes mistakes as a dad, wrestles with guilt and at times appears to be taking the easy way out, his love for his son and desire to be an active co-parent is evident throughout.

As both a father who would kill for his sons and a boy who grew up with divorced parents, I found myself living the lives of both characters. Early on, I identified with Jason, sharing his pain and anger as his wife and the courts unjustly took his son away. As Rafe grew into an innocent 8 year old boy I was suddenly in his shoes--feeling his anguish of separation and wincing with his desperate attempts to not disappoint either of his parents.

I love the fact that this story of busting stereotypes is set in the ultra-macho context of professional sports, where all too often the true headlines are about fatherhood indiscretions and actions which hurt, not help, the family. And while at times the baseball side of the story bordered on the fantastical, it was not enough to distract me from this wonderful book.

"Home, Away" is inspiring and heartfelt and would make a great Father’s Day gift for the baseball fan and caring dad in your life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Good-bye, Junior!

This blog for the most part, is about dads and kids, and childhood joys and fatherly revelries.

Today, it is about baseball.

I have had an obsession with baseball since I was a boy. We are all aware of the clichés surrounding fathers and sons and the greatest game of all time, but they are clichés for a reason: baseball has been connecting fathers and sons for generations. My own father was never a huge baseball fan but he took a greater interest in the game because of my passion for it. In retrospect, that was one of the greatest gestures my father has ever made.

I have been a fan of the Seattle Mariners since they first took to the field in 1977. I was eight, and in the 33 ensuing years since, I have endured much more hardship than celebration. In other words, the Mariners have largely stunk.

In Little League, I was teased mercilessly by my Blue Jay loving friends for rooting for such perennial losers. I didn’t care. I had gone to my first major league baseball game with my dad at the Seattle Kingdome. In spite of the concrete and the artificial turf, the expanse of green was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was hooked. Baseball was magic. The fact that I could share that moment with my dad, whom I saw all too infrequently, meant even more to me.

Baseball elation came to me in earnest in 1989 in the form of Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners drafted him out of high school and he was considered far and away the best prospect in the game. He did not disappoint. In his first major league at bat, he hit a double. The first pitch he ever saw in his home stadium, he belted a home run. Griffey was the real deal.

Griffey was electric. Every at bat was filled with tension, and the possibility of greatness. Even in blowout games, fans stayed until the end to watch him play.

Early in his career, Junior and his own father became a part of baseball lore, when one night, playing as team mates, the two hit home runs, one after the other. It has never been done before, and it’s unlikely to be done again.

The day he was traded to Cincinnati, I was a grown man, and I cried. Griffey was baseball to me. It was like my first love had spurned me for another.

When Griffey returned to Seattle a season ago, a shadow of his former self, I cried again. Griffey was home, even if he was past his brilliant prime where he could change the course of a game with one swing of the bat—one flash of the leather.

Tonight, I wept a little once again. The greatest Mariner ever to play—the man who saved baseball in Seattle and who was one of the greatest in the history of the game— announced his retirement.

It sounds silly coming from a grown man, but watching Ken Griffey Jr. play gave me joy. Watching him play as I sat alongside my father made it even more meaningful. And holding my first born son at Safeco Field as we watched “Cran” Griffey Jr's (as he now calls him) triumphant return to Seattle, was one of the most inexplicably moving moments in my short tenure as a father.

Thank-you, Junior. You’ll never know how much your playing of a beautiful game with such grace meant to so many.